Neptune in classical and Renaissance visual art

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Abstract

Renaissance renderings of Neptune differ from the Greek and Roman models. As a rule, Renaissance artists followed classical conventions in depicting Olympian deities in the nude, and preserved the main attributes of the particular god. Yet in reviving the monumental image of Neptune, Renaissance artists did not have any definite classical model to imitate. While retaining the statuesque image of Neptune, they deliberately deprived him of the grandeur and majesty which normally characterizes an Olympian deity. This manifests itself in their giving Neptune an expressive face, making him perform the gesture of a mortal ruler, and likening him to Hercules.

This article is based on a paper presented at the Third Meeting of the International Society for the Classical Tradition, held at Boston University, March 8–12, 1995. My gratitude is due to Professors Moshe Barasch and James Ackerman for their perceptive reading of an earlier version of this paper and for their valuable comments.